Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Cycles of Uncertainty

I wake up in a soft bed to the sound of the radio. My cat is curled up next to me, miowing every time I move to hit the snooze button – resettling when I lie back and tuck the covers more closely around me. My arm is cold, curled above the covers around him, feeling his soft fur against my skin.

In the car, I fret about filling my gas tank before the day starts too far. I put five dollars in yesterday, but it needs to be completely filled – I have at least sixty miles to drive today, only half of them covered by mileage.

Sonali Kohakar is on the radio, her words not penetrating my fogged brain as I drive to the first stop, but I know her voice as she signs off for the morning. I feel vaguely guilty – I never manage to get up in the morning to listen to her show unless I have to, and I always forget to listen to the podcast in the evening.

I wake up my first client of the day, rush through reminders, chant ‘gas gas gas’ in my mind so I don’t miss my stop. The gas station, thirteen cents cheaper than the one katty corner to it, is a game of tetris with cars. I wave to the attendants I know; I’m there so often.

The radio is covering the demonstrations in Cairo, Egypt. There’s a young woman, she sounds younger than me – her voice clear and sweet and full of laughter despite her situation. “I’m staying until it’s done,” she says. “I don’t think there’s anything for me if Mubarak stays in power. They recorded me saying, ‘Down with Mubarak’.”

I wonder what it would take for me to be recorded saying, “Down with…” anyone. Would I do it if I knew I could be killed for it? My own cowardice is bitter.

Things don’t go well at my second stop, and I wonder how much of it is me, tight and guilty and stressed. What do I bring in to cause failure? How can I ultimately tell; the variables are so numerous that any sort of sensible analysis seems hopeless. I’m caught up again in a cycle of thoughts which have been increasingly bothering me – how much of my analysis of what “should” be worked on, be the focus, valid? Obviously, keeping basics like food and shelter, but there’s pressure for more, to shape people into “citizens” in some way which has an army of unspoken assumptions about what a person should be.

How can I serve my clients and be an agent for the state?

Supposed supporters of Mumbarak are now approaching the demonstrations – demonstrations which are being described as peaceful, clean, celebratory. Violence is breaking out, they say. I know elsewhere, on other radio stations, the language will be of violence “breaking out” in the “riot” in Cairo. I believe what I listen to, others believe what they listen to – and I wonder how we can determine the veracity of our sources of information. I’m biased toward the underdog, the citizens, the people who just want a peaceful world without fear; language about them will always draw my sympathy.

I stop at Starbucks, which has signs on the wall advertizing their word for a better world. To illustrate this, brown people work on coffee plantations in de-saturated photographs. What would it be like if those people were white?

Out better world, built by the labor of the brown.

My favorite discussion board has gotten into get another debate about Palestine and Israel, one without many insults. I feel ignorant, despite hearing about the issue a lot, it seems too often be talked about vaguely, idealistically, politically, with the moments of specific events standing out starkly – the image of three teenage girls dead, and one blinded in one eye. A doctor frantically trying to get help for children bombed in his very own home, calling a friend on television. This doctor preaches peace now, when he speaks, even after the death of so many dear to him. His preaching seems to fall far short of those who could bring about peace.

I wonder what would take me out on the streets.

I had once said something like the Japanese interment camps might have, but looking at the detention of undocumented people … I’m not so sure. It didn’t take me onto the streets, after all.

Would I have hidden Jews in my home in Germany?

I return to the radio with my drink, driving and listening as the radio followed the lead of the blog I read, to Palestine and Israel. In my mind the two conversations are confused, tangled up like a hairball. I’m not sure what I think anymore, except I’m tired of people getting hurt and dying. I’m tired of suffering.

How much do I contribute to that suffering, unseen to me?

Another client, trying to make peace in a smaller place – and another thread of thought intrudes; how do we deal peacefully with aggression? How can aggression be contained without either matching aggression or concession?

What role does being “weak” play into it?

I remember a conference I was at, years ago. People began to speak of their Utopias – no cars, no Starbucks, everyone wearing sandals and walking to a spiritual center. What about the people who need cars, who can’t walk down paths, who don’t want to be spiritual, I wanted to rail at them. Who are the people your Utopia excludes without you seeing?

Who are the people my Utopia excludes without me seeing?

When I wish for peace, for an end to violence and suffering, what is the cost there? Who has to pay it?

I imagine myself there, in Cairo, linking arm and arm with others to protect a library, to protect a square, from “thugs” and “pro-Mumbarak” forces.

But I’m not there. I’m here with my Starbucks and my clients.

I could leave, abandon my things and everything comfortable, use my last paycheck to fly to Cairo and link arms. Maybe.

Who would take my clients shopping? Who would listen to them?

Do I listen to them?

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